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Oct 20, 2009

Does journalism still need a separation of church and state?

News.com.au editor David Higgins believes the commercial-editorial division is a "luxury" the media can no longer afford. Oh dear.

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For those grappling to see some of the dangers to real journalism inherent in the current crisis, this extract from a piece in the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s Walkley Magazine gives cause for a moment’s contemplation.

Acknowledging the importance of independent reporting, (editor at news.com.au David) Higgins believes there’s a need to rethink the role of journalists within the context of a digital media newsroom. He argues that the study of media as a business should be introduced into the core units of journalism and media courses.

“The extremes with which (the separation of church and state) was applied in the past are a luxury that perhaps we cannot afford any more,” Higgins said. “Journalists now need to be proactive in working with the sales people, give sales people a bit more leeway and say ‘I can work with this, but I can’t work with that’. It can no longer simply be the responsibility of the sales people to come up with ideas.”

Yes, this man is the editor of a significant online franchise operated by News Ltd, the people now leading the charge to erect paywalls in every media portal.

The issue with the church-state divide in media is simply, one feels compelled to point out to the likes of Mr Higgins, one of trust. If you do not maintain a scrupulous division between the commercial and the journalistic, then readers are entitled to imagine that everything they read carries the taint of cash-driven comment and reporting … that they may simply be reading what someone has paid someone else to write.

Which is apparently more the object of aspiration than anxiety at news.com.au.

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